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4) See a Mended Groundscraper

A look at Le Luth in the Gennevilliers suburb of Paris

Le Luth, Gennevilliers, Paris

First established in 1302 as a parish, Gennevilliers largely was a farming community until the 19th century when it became more industrialized. During WWII, it elected its first Communist Mayor — Jean Grandel — who positioned the Communist party to resist the invasion from Nazi Germany and paid for it with his life. The area has remained a stronghold of the PCF (Parti Communiste Français) ever since.

If you visit Le Luth, which means "The Lute" in English, referring to the musical instrument; you likely will notice that this neighborhood within the Gennevilliers suburb displays its Communism proudly. For example, the main street is Avenue Lénine and other streets include Rue Salvador Allende, named after the former Chilean president and first elected Marxist in Latin America, and Rue Guy Môquet, named after the locally famous French Communist militant executed by Nazi Germany at the age of 17. Not all streets are named after Communist heroes, though. Creatives are well-represented also, including Rue Maurice Raval, named after the composer, and Rue Eugène Delacroix, named after the artist.

These days, a majority of the population in Le Luth is Muslim, salaries are modestly lower and the crime rate is notably higher than the Paris average, but this is considered a solidly working class area contrary to what trashy British tabloids may say. Major trouble — such as riots — are uncommon in the area. Nevertheless, now is a good time to remind you that, and the author thereof, are not legally responsible for you in any way in Le Luth or anywhere else — and you always should be vigilant about your safety — but if you visit during the morning and don't go looking for trouble, you're unlikely to find it.

If you're not familiar with the term "Groundscraper," this refers to a building that is much longer than it is tall, or what effectively could be thought of as a skyscraper placed on its side. These buildings tend to be around eight to 10 stories tall, but hundreds of meters wide, occupying the uninterrupted equivalent of several city blocks. In French, these buildings are typically just called barres (bars) to differentiate them from tours (towers).

Groundscrapers were the darlings of 1950s-1970s Modernism, but these days architects almost unanimously agree that they're a poor design. Speaking from experience, we can conservatively conclude that unless they are "activated" with ground floor shops and are designed to accommodate people walking through the building at regular intervals, this type of structure is inconvenient because going from one side to the other often involves an unnecessarily long walk around the end.

For Le Luth, specifically, groundscrapers designed by architects Georges Auzolles and Othello Zavaroni between 1965 and 1978 include the curved Petit Beaumarchais and Grand Beaumarchais as well as the straight Barre Lénine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which at 400 meters (nearly a 1/4 of a mile) in length, was reportedly once the longest building in Europe.

Fortunately, subsequent Parisian architects and urbanists have been working to improve the walkability and connectivity of this area since the 1980s. The added connectivity of Line 13 of the metro in 2008 and the T1 tram in 2012 made the area much easier to reach. Likewise, the recent "drilling" of a street grid — with the addition of the Avenue du Luth and Avenue Lucette Mazalaigue — created by knocking down small sections of these groundscrapers in 2013-2014, and implementing a plan by architecture firm Castro Denissof, made the neighborhood more walkable. The addition of some ground floor commercial space on these newly created block corners, definitely gave the neighborhood more of a sense of place, too.

In particular, the architecturally distinctive Espace Aimé Césaire, named after the poet and designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti — has ongoing exhibits and events, and likewise provides the neighborhood with a proper cultural center for residents and visitors alike. Be sure to refer to the official hours of Espace Aimé Césaire before visiting because it closes for lunch each day and is closed on Sunday and Monday altogether.

Although it is better than it once was, retail still is limited immediately around Le Luth. There are a couple of green grocers and a respectable boulangerieMaison Ben Baccar — on Avenue du Luth. The street market adjacent to the Espace Aimé Césaire mostly sells fresh ingredients for cooking, but some snacks like hot off the griddle crêpes also were available when we visited. You could easily eat a French breakfast or snack in the immediate area.

We expected to find halal restaurants in the neighborhood, but from our observation, Muslim food actually did not appear to be more common than other types. Likewise, the French bakery and crêpes at Le Luth were a solid reminder that this suburb still is Paris. Muslim, Modernist, and Communist, yes; but also Parisian.

If you're adventurous and view that the point of travel is to see the world as it is rather than the world you expect, suggests that you might enjoy Le Luth. It's nowhere near the tourist trail, but you still might find it interesting.

Below, we've mapped out a convenient exploration of the neighborhood from the Le Luth tram stop. This short walk takes you up Avenue du Luth, past the Espace Aimé Césaire, through the Jardin Le Pastoral, and down Avenue Lucette Mazalaigue back to the tram in an easy loop.

A special thank you to Alexandre Meyer of Intencity for this suggestion. If you are running a startup in Paris — or are interested in doing so — Intencity provides multiple locations for shared office space as well as light industrial space. The company hosts tech, manufacturing, fashion, and other creative startup companies complete with support and mentoring services.

How to Get Here: Take Metro Line 13 to Les Courtilles station (labeled as the unwieldy Asnières - Gennevilliers - Les Courtilles on some online maps). Take Exit 1 (Av. de La Redoute). You technically could walk to Le Luth, but it is not the most pleasant walk, so it is better to take the tram (T1), which is available immediately in front of the metro station. Go one stop to Le Luth. The redeveloped groundscrapers are to the left of the tram.

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  • Writing & Photos By Brock Kyle. All Rights Reserved. Last Updated/Verified 26 January 2018. Feedback.